For pho in Saigon, P and I stopped at a bright yellow building just minutes away from our guesthouse in Pham Ngu Lau, the backpacker district. It was a Wednesday night and Pho Quynh was packed with Vietnamese customers – a great sign! Apparently this place is known for their stewed beef noodles in tomato sauce, or pho bo kho. However, we’d just survived the most harrowing plane ride I’ve ever been on (a thunderstorm was chasing our tail so closely we could see lightning out of our window) so some comfort food was in order. Thus, we both ordered bowls of pho bo tai, or half-done beef pho.
First our pho accoutrements arrived: limes, bean sprouts, chilis, and a heaping plate of herbs including sweet basil, sawtooth coriander, and mint.
Then the bowls of noodles came out. I was surprised to see the meat was nearly all cooked. We went to Pho Hoa later on and ordered the same dish with the same result. It’s nothing at all like the pho bo tai I’d gotten in Hanoi or even in Hong Kong, for that matter; in those places, the beef really is quite raw.
Anyways, the pho itself was delicious. The broth especially had so many of the complex flavors I love – cardamom, star anise, and plenty of black pepper. As I mentioned, P and I also tried Pho Hoa, the pho institution in Saigon. Honestly, though, I was actually disappointed there. I think the pho is overhyped; the broth was more one-note than that at Pho Quynh, and that was before all the requisite green herbs were added. I definitely liked Pho Quynh more, which was just as well, given its convenient location.
323 Pham Ngu Lau, District 1 (on the corner of Cong Quynh)
Cost: 40,000 VND/bowl of pho bo tai